The World According to Google, Hizbullah and Taliban
The three words that stand out in the popular Silicon Valley lexicon are "Risk", "Disrupt" and "Change". Almost all high-tech aficionados love to talk about entrepreneurs taking "risks" to "disrupt" the existing technologies, products, markets and systems to bring about fundamental "change" in how we live, work and play. The search giant Google is often cited as epitomizing risk-taking, disruption and change.
Some serious observers and writers are now taking this discussion a step further into the realm of violent insurgent groups such as the Hezbollah and the Taliban and how they are becoming a powerful disruptive force for geopolitical change.
Author Joshua Cooper Ramo, in his book "Age of Unthinkable" talks about how Hezbollah has become a powerful disruptive force in the Middle East. In a recent commentary, Ramo says, "...in my dealings with Hezbollah over the years as a journalist, I had found myself fascinated by their capacity for innovation, even in the pursuit of shocking ends. Their obsession with finding better ways to fight under the pressure of Israeli attack was astonishing. In 2006, for instance, fewer than 500 Hezbollah ﬁghters had frustrated a 30,000-man Israeli attack."
Talking about Fouad, Hezbollah's Chief Technology Officer, Ramo writes in his book, "Fouad reminded me of friends of mine who had started Internet companies or people I knew managing gigantic hedge funds. This was the generation that had built the Web into something useful and revolutionary, that had assembled huge and unregulatable ﬁnancial firms churning out billions in proﬁts while creating trillions of dollars of risk. These people see destabilization of the existing order as not only necessary but inevitable. You don’t dare draw an equivalency between the crimes of Hezbollah and the innovations of Google, but you can see in each the workings of a powerful energy. These hot cells of innovation draw the very best minds of a generation: math geniuses to hedge funds, computer savants to tech startups and, well, “Our e-mail is ﬂooded with CVs,” Fouad told me."
Then Ramo wonders out loud if the established order in the US can take on these new insurgents. He says, "When I thought of these rebels I knew in the context of other friends of mine, such as the suits working in the National Security Council or the U.S. Army or Time Warner, I realized that there was no chance those conservative places could compete. They were locked in a vision of the world that was out of date. As a perplexed Alan Greenspan confessed to Congress about his own thinking in 2008: “I have found a ﬂaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by the fact.” The congressman questioning him asked, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right. It was not working?” Greenspan replied, “Absolutely. Precisely. You know that’s precisely the reason I was shocked. Because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”
Recently, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions encouraged House Republicans to see the Taliban as a model for "how to disrupt and change" the control of Washington by the entrenched Democrats in both the executive and legislative branches of the US government. Here's how he is quoted by Los Angeles Times:
Insurgency we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban. And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes. And these Taliban -- I'm not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban -- no, that's not what we're saying. I'm saying an example of how you go about is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their front line message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.
I think insurgency is a mindset and an attitude that we're going to have to search for and find ways to get our message out and to be prepared to see things for what they are, rather than trying to do something about them, I think what's happened is that the line was drawn in the sand.... We either work together, or we're going to find a way to get our message out.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the world is witnessing the start of a dramatic change in the international order. As Ramo puts it:
What we face isn’t one single shift like the end of World War II or a ﬁnancial crisis, so much as an avalanche of change. We are entering, in short, a revolutionary age. On the one hand, this revolution is creating unprecedented disruption. But it is also creating new fortunes, new power and fresh hope. Revolutions, after all, don’t produce only losers. They also produce a new cast of historical champions. If we are living in the Age of the Unthinkable now — when surprise and unimagined danger confronts us on many fronts — we are not living in the age of the unexplainable.
To master this new world, it is important for us to learn from the revolutionaries. Whether we see them as the good guys or the bad guys, they do understand the new laws of power in this new world.
Congressman Pete Sessions on Emulating Taliban
Learning how to navigate 'Age of Unthinkable'
It is a truth universally acknowledged that information technology—in particular social networking through the Internet—is changing the global balance of power. The “Facebook Generation” has already been credited with the overthrow of the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. For a brief period, the darling of Tahrir Square was the young Google executive Wael Ghonim.
Yet there is another side to the story. It is not only proponents of democracy who know how to exploit the power of online networking. It is also the enemies of freedom.
Ask yourself: just how did the murderous mob in Mazar-e Sharif find out about the burning of a Quran in Florida? Look no further than the Internet and the mobile phone. Since 2001 cell-phone access in Afghanistan has leapt from zero to 30 percent.
It seems paradoxical. In Samuel Huntington’s version of the post–Cold War world, there was going to be a clash between an Islamic civilization that was stuck in a medieval time warp and a Western civilization that was essentially equivalent to modernity. What we’ve ended up with is something more like a mashup of civilizations, in which the most militantly antimodern strains of Islam are being channeled by the coolest technology the West has to offer.
Here’s a good example. According to the Jihadica website, there is now a special data package produced by the “Mobile Detachment” of the “al-Ansar al-Mujahideen Forum” especially for cell phones. Users can download encryption software, pictures, and 3GP-format video clips with titles like “A Martyr Eulogizing Another Martyr” by the Somalia-based Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen. Also available to users is the electronic magazine al-Sumud (“Resistance”) published by the Afghan branch of the Taliban, and edifying documents—available in both MS Word and Adobe formats—like “How to Prepare for Your Afterlife.” Killer apps, indeed.
Then there is Inspire, the online magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and aimed at aspiring jihadists in the West. In addition to bomb-making instructions, it also publishes target lists of individuals against whom fatwas have been proclaimed.
No one should pretend that these messages do not find receptive ears. In May 2010 Roshonara Choudhry stabbed the British M.P. Stephen Timms after having watched 100 hours of extremist sermons by Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Where did she find these sermons? On YouTube, of course. Al-Awlaki’s other followers include the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.
In short, Google’s pro-democracy Wael Ghonim is probably a less significant figure than Fouad X, the head of IT for Hizbullah in Lebanon, who tells Joshua Ramo (at the beginning of his superb book The Age of the Unthinkable) that “our email is flooded with CVs” from Islamist geeks wanting to “serve a sacred cause.”
So far, so bad. Now here’s the real problem. Many of these same Islamist geeks (among them Al-Awlaki) have hailed the so-called Arab Spring as a golden opportunity. The March 29 issue of Inspire declared: “The revolutions that are shaking the thrones of dictators are good for the Muslims, good for the mujahideen, and bad for the imperialists of the West and their henchmen in the Muslim world.”
The clash of civilizations would have been easy for the West to win if it had simply pitted the ideas and institutions of the 21st century against those of the seventh. No such luck. In the new mash of civilizations, our most dangerous foes are the Islamists who understand how to post fatwas on Facebook, email the holy Quran, and tweet the call to jihad.
From Newsweek by Julian Assange of Wikileaks:
It was at this point that I realized Eric Schmidt might not have been an emissary of Google alone. Whether officially or not, he had been keeping some company that placed him very close to Washington, D.C., including a well-documented relationship with President Obama. Not only had Hillary Clinton’s people known that Eric Schmidt’s partner had visited me, but they had also elected to use her as a back channel.
While WikiLeaks had been deeply involved in publishing the inner archive of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. State Department had, in effect, snuck into the WikiLeaks command center and hit me up for a free lunch. Two years later, in the wake of his early 2013 visits to China, North Korea and Burma, it would come to be appreciated that the chairman of Google might be conducting, in one way or another, “back-channel diplomacy” for Washington. But at the time it was a novel thought.
I put it aside until February 2012, when WikiLeaks—along with over thirty of our international media partners—began publishing the Global Intelligence Files: the internal email spool from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. One of our stronger investigative partners—the Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar— scoured the emails for intelligence on Jared Cohen.
The people at Stratfor, who liked to think of themselves as a sort of corporate CIA, were acutely conscious of other ventures that they perceived as making inroads into their sector. Google had turned up on their radar. In a series of colorful emails they discussed a pattern of activity conducted by Cohen under the Google Ideas aegis, suggesting what the “do” in “think/do tank” actually means.
Cohen’s directorate appeared to cross over from public relations and “corporate responsibility” work into active corporate intervention in foreign affairs at a level that is normally reserved for states. Jared Cohen could be wryly named Google’s “director of regime change.”
According to the emails, he was trying to plant his fingerprints on some of the major historical events in the contemporary Middle East. He could be placed in Egypt during the revolution, meeting with Wael Ghonim, the Google employee whose arrest and imprisonment hours later would make him a PR-friendly symbol of the uprising in the Western press. Meetings had been planned in Palestine and Turkey, both of which—claimed Stratfor emails—were killed by the senior Google leadership as too risky.
Looking for something more concrete, I began to search in WikiLeaks’ archive for information on Cohen. State Department cables released as part of Cablegate reveal that Cohen had been in Afghanistan in 2009, trying to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto U.S. military bases. In Lebanon, he quietly worked to establish an intellectual and clerical rival to Hezbollah, the “Higher Shia League.” And in London he offered Bollywood movie executives funds to insert anti-extremist content into their films, and promised to connect them to related networks in Hollywood.
If the future of the Internet is to be Google, that should be of serious concern to people all over the world—in Latin America, East and Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union and even in Europe—for whom the Internet embodies the promise of an alternative to U.S. cultural, economic, and strategic hegemony.
A “don’t be evil” empire is still an empire.
Extracted from When Google Met Wikileaks by Julian Assange published by OR Books. Newsweek readers can obtain a 20 percent discount on the cover price when ordering from the OR Books website and including the offer code word NEWSWEEK.
https://aeon.co/essays/why-isis-has-the-potential-to-be-a-world-altering-revolution … via @aeonmag
Treating the Islamic State as merely a form of terrorism or violent extremism masks the menace. All novel developments are ‘extremist’ compared with what was the norm before. What matters for history is whether these movements survive and thrive against the competition. For our singularly self-predatory species, success has depended on willingness to shed blood, including the sacrifice of one’s own, not merely for family and tribe, wealth or status, but for some greater cause. This has been especially true since the start of the Axial Age more than two millennia ago. At that time, large-scale civilisations arose under the watchful gaze of powerful divinities, who mercilessly punished moral transgressors – thus ensuring that even strangers in multiethnic empires would work and fight as one.
Call it ‘god’ or whatever secular ideology one prefers, including any of the great modern salvational -isms: colonialism, socialism, anarchism, communism, fascism and liberalism. In Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes deemed sacrifice for a transcendent ideal ‘the privilege of absurdity to which no creature but man is subject’. Humans make their greatest commitments and exertions, for ill or good, for the sake of ideas that give a sense of significance. In an inherently chaotic universe, where humans alone recognise that death is unavoidable, there is an overwhelming psychological impetus to overcome this tragedy of cognition: to realise ‘why I am’ and ‘who we are’.
In The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin cast this devotion as the virtue of ‘morality… the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy’ with which winning groups are better endowed in history’s spiralling competition for survival and dominance. It is the sacred values, immune to material tradeoffs, that bind us most. In any culture, an unwillingness to sell out one’s kin or religious and political brotherhoods and motherlands is the line we usually will not cross. Devotion to these values can drive successes which are out of all proportion to expected outcomes.
Asymmetric operations involving spectacular killings to destabilise the social order is a tactic that has been around as long as recorded history
Often these values, tethered to beliefs such as our ‘God is great, bodiless but omnipotent’ or our ‘free markets are always wise’, are attributed to Providence or Nature. They can never be verified by empirical evidence, and their meaning is impossible to pin down. The term ‘sacred values’ intuitively denotes religious belief, as when land is holy, but can also include the ‘secularised sacred’ such as the ‘hallowed ground’ of Gettysburg or the site of the attacks on New York City of 11 September 2001 (9/11). The foundational beliefs of the great ideological -isms and the quasi-religious notion of the Nation itself have been ritualised in song and ceremony and sacrifice.
The Taliban in Afghanistan has prevented many women from attending university and suspended secondary education for girls since retaking power in 2021.